MISSOULA, Mont. — A new class action lawsuit filed Wednesday accuses the Montana Secretary of State's Office of knowingly making more than $120,000 off double charging customers without notifying them of the error, saying the office’s policy for resolving overcharges violates Montana law.
“In Montana, the Secretary of State has a side hustle,” the first line of the lawsuit against Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen reads.
The suit says the overcharging stems from a technical glitch but claims Jacobsen knew about the problems and carried on her predecessor’s policy of not refunding money unless requested in writing.
Attorneys claim the SOS didn’t notify those affected.
The suit says an SOS employee created a spreadsheet to document duplicate charges and shared it with then-Secretary of State Corey Stapleton and then-Deputy Secretary of State Jacobsen, alleging Jacobsen has known about this issue since 2019.
“While businesses in Montana hung on by a thread as the COVID-19 pandemic raged, while other arms of government did all they could to route money to keep small businesses afloat, the Secretary of State’s Office was skimming—to the tune of more than $120,000 in fiscal year 2020. A lucrative side hustle, to say the least,” the lawsuit reads.
The plaintiffs in the case include several Montana businesses, including Purple Snow Promotional, Backslope Brewing, Pine Street Rentals, Essential Mountain Products, Black Dog Farm, The Mental Health Update and Wicked Good Handyman Service.
The lawsuit goes into further detail about the technical problems causing the overcharging. It says the Secretary of State’s Office contracted with a firm to use Catalyst, a platform that processes payments on the SOS website.
The lawsuit says if a customer pressed submit or pay on the website more than once, it resulted in multiple payments.
The filing says in some instances customers would submit their payment information, but a glitch prevented it from being recorded. The lawsuit says the customer would then get notification of nonpayment and would pay again, even though they had already been charged the first time.
The lawsuit calls for the practice to be stopped, a declaration that the policy is unlawful and an order requiring the SOS to inform potentially affected people. Plaintiffs also want refunds on behalf of everyone this has affected and attorney’s fees covered.
NBC Montana has reached out to the Secretary of State’s Office for comment on the lawsuit. We’ll update this story when we get a response.